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June 2001

On the Trail of Sasquatch
by Brian Dunning

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Let it never be said that FileMaker Pro doesn't have the mettle to be a true trailblazer. For, lurking in the dark forests of the Pacific Northwest, only one database has the courage to tread where only Sasquatch has gone before.

Bill McClintock is the Executive Director of the Society for the Classification of Unknown Great Apes (SCUGA). By the size of his humble office, one might divine that he's also the Assistant Director, Executive Assistant, Head Underling and Under Secretary. Yet Bill's organization boasts over two thousand members, stored, naturally, in a FileMaker Pro database.

"A lot of people laugh at the Bigfoot stories," says Bill. "SCUGA is not interested in hoaxes, unsubstantiated reports, fake footprints, or anything else that makes Bigfoot research a laughing stock. We believe that if there is an unclassified species of great ape in the forests of the northwest, it should be properly characterized zoologically."

SCUGA does not work with any of the more popular aficionado groups such as Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, Such groups maintain large databases of sightings. "Organizations like BFRO list anything and everything, no matter what joker reports it. So it's impossible to glean anything statistically useful out of their databases."

Bill's database is an impressively sophisticated system. If things dry up in Bigfoot research, he could have a fair career as a FileMaker consultant. He has a Members database with, sure enough, a shade over two thousand records. There's also a Sightings database, with many-to-many relationships reaching out to a whole score of Characteristics files. Like a true database pro, Bill refers to his files as tables, and to his fields as columns.

SCUGA's system uses a technique with as many names as Sasquatch itself, and which I'll call the viewer file. All of the interface resides in a single file with only a single dummy record. It contains tons of globals used as relational keys, and all the data is pulled in from the many associated files. "This eliminates all the navigation problems," says Bill, "and also makes it work faster over a network, since the viewer file is local on each user's machine." Quite the elaborate setup, especially when you consider the size of his office and staff.

Bill has played around a bit with Web Companion and hopes to deploy an online version of his database to let members perform research and input new data. "I'm a little worried about cranks putting in bogus data," says Bill. "So it's probably not going to be a publicly available web site with a domain." Bummer.

Exactly what kind of research would members do on this web site? "Looking for zoological trends among reports for comparative analysis," says Bill. "Useful sightings are reported by people with the expertise to recognize significant points of data and report them responsibly."

Significant points of data like what?

"Look at known species such as bears, foxes, or wolves. Their color and size varies with altitude and latitude: lighter fur the farther north you go, and larger mass to surface area ratio to conserve body temperature. Heat radiating structures, such as external ears, are also notably smaller toward the poles. A useful Bigfoot sighting would record all of these traits, plus a number of others."

And those traits stay on the record permanently, as Bill employs FileMaker Server 5 with its automated, unattended backup feature. The backups are written to an external Zip 250 drive. Bill rotates the cartridges every week, and once every four weeks, he stores one away as a permanent archive. A formidable assault on Bigfoot's effort to remain elusive.

I showed FileMaker Mobile to Bill on my Palm. He'd never seen it before, and was intrigued to say the least. "People in the field could use this to enter their data," he mused. "It's worth some more thought, for sure. It would need to sync up to my master database though." We brainstormed a little about giving a local single-user file to remote members, with a script that would synchronize the data to Bill's server. Ah, the things one could do if one only had the time.

At this rate, Gigantopithecus Americanus (North American Sasquatch) won't be a loner for much longer. As if the infra-red recorders, helicopters, and movement-triggered cameras aren't making his life hard enough, now all this database technology is making it a very close chase indeed.

Browse Mode
Jan 10 Solving Performance Emergencies with FileMaker Server
Aug 06 Top Ten Sessions Cut from the 2006 FileMaker Developer Conference
Jul 06 Who's Driving This Thing, Anyway? Or, How Marketing and Engineering Buried the Hatchet (Warning: Contains a Curse Word)
Nov 05 Shingle Grandiloquence
Oct 05 In Celebration of Geek Magnetism
Aug 05 A Rogues' Gallery of Devcon Attendees
Mar 05 Lies, Damned Lies, and Project Specifications
Feb 05 Pick the Right Tool for the Job
Oct 04 Home Media Server Requirements
Jul 04 Leveraging Your FileMaker Lingo
Apr 04 Technical Support Redux
Mar 04 Enforce Seats in FileMaker 7/8/9 Commercial Solutions
Feb 04 Reinventing the Wheel
Oct 03 WAP: The Technology That Wasn't
Aug 03 Brian Dunning's California Governor Election Platform
Jul 03 Sex and the Single Software Developer
May 03 XSLT: Creeping Out of the Closet?
Feb 03 A Consultant's Guide to Traveling
Nov 02 Adventures of Bat Magnum, FileMaker Consultant
Sep 02 FileMaker at Area 51
Aug 02 FileMaker Terminology
Feb 02 Computer Shunts
Dec 01 Aquabase Alpha & the Consultant's Challenge
Aug 01 It IS the Size That Counts
Jun 01 On the Trail of Sasquatch
May 01 Spring Cleaning
Feb 01 FileMaker Mobile Survivor Challenge
Jan 01 Letter from Nürburg
Dec 00 Performance Anxiety
Nov 00 Objection, Your Honor
Oct 00 Leveraging Convergence: Jargon for the 21st Century
Sep 00 Top Ten Things to Do at Devcon
Aug 00 Aesop's FileMaker Fables
Jul 00 Ten Commandments of FileMaker Pro
Jun 00 Explats Cross Examined
May 00 iMac, Therefore iServe
Mar 00 Valley of the Dollars
Jan 00 Are You Up for a Review?
Nov 99 Tales from the Script
Sep 99 Tech Support Revisited
Jul 99 Moderns vs. Classicals
Mar 99 Nashoba, We Hardly Knew Ye